Monday, 19 August 2013

Are Music Blogs Dying ? (One Year On....)

Last year whilst on holiday in Spain we dashed off an unedited blog post entitled Are Music Blogs Dying? It ended up being shared by lot of people and became one of our most read posts of 2012.

So as today we find ourselves in the same location on a similar holiday, exactly one year on we thought we’d revisit that post and take stock of where we are now with another ‘written on a flyer, on the beach, in one go, unedited post’.

The past post in question predicted the slow death of the traditional MP3 blog (like this one) and concluded that those that do something different, or that have something interesting to say will win out (possibly in another form away from blogs). After all, ever since pop music culture started there have always been people who want to write and talk about music and everything surrounding it from the haircuts to the sex to the debates be they professional journalists or through d-i-y culture such as fanzines and unfunded blogs and an audience that wanted to read / listen.

Here are the five key pieces of evidence that we presented in the original post, to which we’ve bolted on our further thoughts from 365 days later E.g. today.

1. The Lack Of New Start Ups

Here we suggested that often music blogs tend to be temporary and that many (but not all) blog authors are time rich – that’s why they start their blogs. Once that free time is reduced, usually by work, travel, relationships or the biggest time consumer of all – children, their blogs often close. We suggested that in the past, as old blogs die there had always been new fresh faced pups of blogs who were able to quickly cast their spell over the internet and establish their place on the blog scene; but that this seemed to be happening less so now.

Last year we named Alphabet Bands, Lost Lost Lost, Brapscallions and Beat Pyramid as four new start-ups that were being recommended to us. A year on and Lost Lost Lost has completely closed down, Brapscallions has posted 6 times since May 20, Beat Pyramid 3 times since the same date and only Alphabet Bands has been churning out high quality and regular posts. Based on this type of evidence it looks like our original argument holds true – the new start-ups generally aren’t establishing themselves in the same way as the older blogs managed to.

One blogger (Scott from Surfing On Steam) who commented on our original post gave a good explanation of why this may be so. He stated “I know that no one likes to discuss this but money is a big part of the equation here (ad revenue). The name-worthy music blogs that came up in the second wave of music blogging (2004-2005) are either making decent to great ad revenue, have been bought-out, or they're in the same place they were seven years ago (or longer for some). So you're not going to see a lot of great original content from new bloggers because it's already been taken care of elsewhere.”

It’s a good point, although we’d argue that some of the greatest (and most original) content will always come from those who are fresh faced and not doing it for the money. Great creativity can come from the pure joy of creation; a good new idea costs nothing, but sometimes the risk of doing things differently is stopped because of the fear of how it may affect revenue. However if a blog is generating decent revenue the motivation to continue is easier; the blog can become a part or full time job, whereas fully unfunded and independent blogs like Breaking More Waves are only able to exist through the sheer love (and available time) to create.

A year on and the lack of new start-ups that are being ‘successful’ (and by successful we mean keeping going in the longer term and developing a readership) suggests that as the older blogs end the lack of replacements ultimately could lead to the slow death of the traditional MP3 blog. Sure, people are starting up all sorts of crazy exciting projects on the internet, but MP3 blogging doesn’t seem as high on the agenda as it did a few years back.

2 + 3. The Prevalence Of Free Music Elsewhere + There Are So Many Ways To Discover New Music

These two points are linked and still seem to be so. Nothing particularly seems to have changed over the last year in this area. You Tube, radio and Social Networks all remain the most important discovery tools, with blogs occupying a (possibly shrinking) niche area.

4. Decreased Traffic / Hits

A year ago we stated that over the last four years Breaking More Waves had seen a constant increase in visitors, yet the six months before the Are Music Blogs Dying post our visitors had plateaued and dropped a little. At the time we wrote that some other bloggers had also confirmed the same trend although this was by far from universal, a number reporting an increase in traffic. (See this piece from the now partly on hiatus Recommender - one of the blogs who told us their visitors were up in 2012).

So what has the last year seen for Breaking More Waves in terms of traffic? Has that plateau and dip continued in a downwards direction? No, it hasn’t.

This is one area where we’ve been proven categorically wrong. To our surprise Breaking More Waves has gone from strength to strength in terms of visitors. In fact the number of hits on Breaking More Waves in June and July 2013 was our biggest ever and the average length that the reader stayed has remained broadly the same.

On its own that might suggest that blogs are more popular, but we’re not so sure. We suspect there’s a whole number of factors at play here. Maybe we’ve just stolen some other dying blogs traffic as blog readers look for new sources. Maybe it’s as we create more content there’s more out there on the World Wide Web to find? Maybe Google searches are being kinder to us than they were in the past? Maybe we've just got a little bit better known? Or maybe just more people are online more of the time?

5. Buzz Blogs

Now last year we pissed a few people off by slagging off Buzz Blogs. But let’s be clear about what we mean by Buzz Blogs as this term was misinterpreted. We mean the type of blog that has no sense of being well curated or sense of love for the music they post. We’re talking about the sort of blog that will post any crappy Lady Gaga remix or Jay-Z mash up just because it will drive traffic to their site. We’re talking about the sort of blog that provides no commentary or context. We’re talking about the type of blog where being first is everything. These blogs are killing the reputation of all the great music blogs out there and as a result helping kill music blogging.

6. Blogs Just Aren’t Sexy Anymore

Well we’re still here, gagging for it, still hoping that we fulfil your fantasies. Gosh we look hot sat behind a laptop. But do you still want it?

So one year on, where are we now and what does the future hold?

We’re pretty sure that there are less successful new start-ups these days. We’re also pretty sure that the rise of social media and platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr has had a knock on effect on new music blogging. These days the champions are those who can share others quality content first, before anyone else, but  not necessarily by creating their own great content to accompany it. But are traditional MP3 music blogs dying? Maybe not quite yet; certainly our traffic statistics suggest that there’s a bunch of people out there who want to read the crap we write. Also the number of artists and labels that approach us looking for a post about their music suggests that the musicians and their backers still value blogs. So maybe our original post a year ago was a little gloomy and on the pessimistic side? Maybe if traditional MP3 blogs are slowly dying, it’s going to be a real long slow death?

After all everything ends at some point doesn’t it?  Having said that, crystal ball gazing on the internet is near impossible, so we’ll stop now and promise not to revisit this topic again in another 365 days.

Instead, here are three great tracks that we’ve been enjoying on our holidays. Yes one of them is Katy Perry, but it's remixed by Clarence Clarity (remember him - he's bonkers but brilliant - we wrote about him here) and he drops Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger in the middle of it which as far as we’re concerned is 10/10 genius! Then there’s the return of blog favourites and Newcastle’s finest Let’s Buy Happiness (who have an album coming soon) with a new song Run and finally a rather scrumptiously sexy mash up of Alice Jemima (who regular readers should need no introduction to) and Bondax. All top notch - all worth writing a blog (on our holiday) for.

Clarence Clarity - KADYクソPERRY

Let's Buy Happiness - Run

DJ AA - No Diggity (AA All Inside Bootleg Alice Jemima / Bondax)


Tim said...

Interesting update Robin, and I think I pretty much agree with your throughout. Our stats have essentially plateaued, but I think that has more to do with the artists we've featured recently not having the breakout success of an Alt-J or Bastille. Certainly no downward spiral though.

Music blogs don't seem to be dying anytime soon, but I would maybe add erosion into music blogging by traditional media - The Guardian and NME being two major examples. They are essentially music blogging with a big media group behind them. The Guardian links out a fair bit, so they are probably a benefit to music blogging overall, whilst NME almost never does and just seem to post the same stuff as everyone else, but they rank higher on Google because of the brand.

Also, I can;t remember the last time I came across a scummy buzzblog. Maybe they are finally going the way of the dodo?

Anonymous said...

Pretty much agree with the 1st one, this is happening loads and I can't see who is replacing the greats, still there are definitely loads of great blogs out there, and they are still undoubtly the best place to find new music, I think it's just about having an identity, and time, in order to cultivate an audience.

Also you missed 'it's the most thankless fucking task in the world' It can feel so much like people don't care it's so easy to give in.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the comments.

Tim - Yes, re: Guardian / NME - I'd agree with your sentiments. The Guardian engage with blogs quite a bit - from their Blog Jam series to quoting blogs in Paul Lesters's new band column (I think I've been quoted about 4 times) to linking to blogs in other ways. The NME however seems to take a blinkered approach (which you could argue they are doing with a lot of things at the moment) in terms of blogs - a shame as essentially there's a lot of common ground.

As for buzz blogs a number of people have commented they've gone away. Maybe they have to a certain extent but there are certainly some on my radar - sometimes I spend a hour just listening randomly to stuff on Hype Machine and there'll be a remix by a well known act. When I click through to the blog all I find is a post of 10 or 20 mp3's with no commentary, just the song titles. Maybe not every post the blog is doing is like that, but they still exist.

I also remember earlier this year there was one blog / site who announced that it wasn't going to write anything about the music they posted any more but were just going to let the music do the talking. I can't unfortunately remember the name of the site now but I remember Josh from Crack In The Road having a bit of a rant about it. If I remember the name I'll name and shame here later - so they do still exist.

Anon - Interesting point about being 'the most thankless fucking task in the world'. I guess we all have moments like that but overall I really don't feel it is. First because I take great pleasure in writing my blog - it's a hell of a lot less stressful than my day job which carries a fair bit of responsibility for people, money etc and yet can still feel very thankless. Also because I'm lucky enough to have met a number of the bands I've written about and people who read the blog and they have all been very complimentary. In fact through writing Breaking More Waves I've made some really good friendships with both artists and readers and that really makes it feel all worthwhile!

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Ref: Above comments. Josh from Crack In The Road has just reminded me of the site. The site in question is MTHRFNKR who wrote a piece explaining that they were going to stop writing abut the music. They now call themselves an internet radio station but seem to just stream any old song with no thought for great curation and certainly no context or passion.

Scryst said...

Interesting post - and incredible organisation to do it exactly one year to the day whilst on holiday. Most people stop doing this stuff as a holiday.

I think (in the UK) there are now probably 20 or so regular on the case blogs that seem to have settled down as the best with less drop outs and add ins. I think a lot of these will keep going for a number of years - or until as you suggest children, jobs etc come along and their blogs seem less important to them as authors as they do now.

Tim said...

@Anon - Interesting about what you say about music blogging being a thankless task. I'd have to disagree - I love being able to talk about music, discovering news bands, and then meeting people (bands, readers, label people, bloggers) involved - I've made some good friends through the blog like Robin!

I might even meet Robin himself at some point :)

Breaking More Waves Blog said...


I'm sure eventually at some point our paths will cross (probably at some dodgy gig somewhere!)

Pedram (ghost fm) said...

I read your post last year and posted the comment partly against buzzblogs. On that topic, I feel they've lost a part of their attention due to your 2+3 point which is true. As time grows, their audience is gradually shifting from avid music listeners to more prominent music websites to take advantage of their buzz material and it leaves them dry at the end of the day. Yes you have Pitchfork referring to you in one soon-to-be-forgotten post. Maybe they will do it again but you're not the one to gain anything out of it. I've been statistically following a few buzzblogs (disco naivete, mthrfnkr namely among some smaller ones) to see the slow dissatisfying grow in their network during the past year. I used to follow their post only to later realise there is almost nothing that accompanies an embed from soundcloud or a Katy B remix by BLKGKYUGSDYUD that no one cares about. So they lost my respect regardless of the fact that thousands of people follow them. I don't think they deserve my attention anymore. If you like Katy B or Kendrick and looking for something similar all you have to do is click on their name on your Spotify or whatever!

But music blogs still make a lot of sense despite my doubts and reconsiderations during the last 365 days. I'm about to re-launch my own. Except that I will not necessarily write about the music I enjoy or regularly listen to. I think this is the aspect of blogging that will soon fade. If I want to see what you listen to or enjoy I look at your or just follow your tweets (the way I do for BMW). I will not read a 1,500-word post of you just because you like Little Boots. For now, my attention is for more conceptual blogs that only serve a specific purpose, a specific theme in their posts. I relate to them much more than Gorilla vs. Bear with their 2-line posts that range from hip-hop to Beach House. To me, no blog will ever come close to xxjfg and they are my biggest inspiration. But a much smaller blog like Cactus Mouth has been sticking to its own lo-fi garage principle for years. Surely I will trust his taste more than I trust Mthrfnkr who comes back with a rude racial answer tweet every time you criticize a black artist of her taste.

All I'm saying is that if you focus on what you're doing, you're a more trustworthy source of the music I want you to keep writing about. And the narrower the focus, the better! And whatever you do, please do it quietly and we will find you. Awesome people are usually reserved and quiet.

It's nice that the state of music blogging is still a matter of concern to people like you. Come back next year with your analysis.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the words Pedram.

I'm not fully sure Disco Naivete is what I personally define as a 'buzz blog' even though its author calls it one himself, as to me DN has a strong sense of being very well curated in terms of musical selections.

As for having a narrow focus - I can see how that will be appealing to readers who like that sort of music and will probably be the way many some blogs continue to develop, but for me personally I'm a fan of a range of music (pop, indie, folk, electronica ) I will continue to feature stuff that I like. Yes you can look at my Last FM but that will only give you 40% of my total music listening and no explanation as to why I like something and besides, Breaking More Waves is more about having a conversation about music (and some of the issues that surround it), with my personality injected into it rather than anything else. It's not for everyone, but it's what I enjoy doing (and as its unfunded why bother unless I enjoy it?).

Matt said...

babies kill blogs! I can attest to that, and much of point number one in this post. most blogs are started when time is in great supply, and so often it is difficult to maintain the momentum that's initiated during the first few phases of a blog's lifecycle. as a hobby, it can become arduous and self-defeating in purpose chasing the next great music thing in your world and writing about it, or always striving to give your readers something very well worth clicking to and through. if you try and monetize it, all of this becomes amplified.

but for those who did try and monetize their blogs in some way or other, what has happened is similar to what happens with most popular fringe movements in western culture... they're co-opted by the mainstream and neutered. most of the best music blogs went corporate, write on the side for a corporate publication, or answer to corporate advertisers. and most corporate music publications have started their own "music blog" thing. and if you're a music blogger doing none of the aforementioned, then that's what you are up against in trying to connect with readers. unfortunately, starting a "real" music blog in 2013 is a bit like starting a "real" punk band in 1999. it can be done, but the moment has passed.

however! music lovers still yearn to discover, discuss, and pontificate at great length about music. the spirit of old school record shops, zines, and music blogs lives on as people continue finding unique ways of expressing their musical obsessions. from innovative tumblrs to whatever the next is to interesting kickstarter projects to regional well-curated music festivals and beyond. as our choices for music discovery tend further towards the infinite, uniqueness and true personal perspective matter more and more. and music lovers, thankfully, are expert (and social) foragers by nature. so, the spirit of "the music blog" will always be out there, somewhere, in some form or other.